So, what would it take to persuade you to have another baby? A big tax break? A monthly stipend? Free child care? A big house?
“I wouldn’t do that again for all the money in the world” is a perfectly reasonable answer. But be prepared: At some point, your government is going to pitch you on a larger family.
We have entered the age of the fertility panic. Country after country is discovering that smaller families are causing the population to shrink, which means more old people, and therefore higher government expenses and lower tax revenues. And many of those countries are then jumping to the wrong conclusion: that they should persuade people to have more kids.
The latest victim is the United States, which until recently was proud of its big, corn-fed families, but discovered last year that the economic crisis and constricted immigration have pushed its average family size down to 1.9 children, below the 2.1 needed for population stability.
This has led a number of American voices to propose what European countries have been doing for more than a decade and what Quebec has tried since the 1980s: attempting to create larger families through policy.
This theme has been seized upon most dramatically by the conservative author Jonathan Last, whose book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting created alarming headlines across America this week. He is not satisfied to warn of rising pension and health-care costs. “Declining populations have always followed or been followed by Very Bad Things. Disease. War. Economic stagnation or collapse. And these grim tidings from history may be in our future,” his first chapter warns. (He follows this by reassuring us that unlike the population-growth scaremongers of the 1970s, “I’m not selling doom.”)
Spain’s Catalonia region, fed up with the tax demands of cash-strapped Madrid, was expected to elect on Sunday a separatist government that will try to hold a referendum on independence.
Pro-independence flags, a star against red and yellow stripes, hung on balconies in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, as people cast ballots in a vote that could plunge Spain into a constitutional crisis even as it struggles to avoid an international bailout.
An economic crisis and 25 percent unemployment in Spain have reignited long-dormant separatism in industrial Catalonia, where people widely believe the tax system run by Madrid has held back development in a region which has its own financial crisis.
“It’s time for Catalans to pursue their own nation. When you’re in a relationship and you’re not getting along you work for mutual respect. We’ve tried, but Spain hasn’t,” said Jose Manuel Victoria, 67, who voted for the main pro-independence party.
Opinion polls show two-thirds of votes will go to pro-independence parties that will push for a referendum to break away from Spain, which the central government will challenge as unconstitutional.
With more people than Denmark and an economy almost as big as Portugal’s, Catalonia has its own language. Like Basques, Catalans see themselves as distinct from the rest of Spain.
Economic crisis and mass unemployment in Southern Europe have triggered an exodus of highly qualified jobseekers, many of whom are making their way north to Germany. There, a relatively strong economy and growing shortage of skilled workers makes companies eager to ensure that the newcomers feel welcome.
Ziehl-Abegg, a mid-sized specialist in ventilation technology based in the southwestern German town of Künzelsau, recently welcomed two new engineers from Portugal, and a third is on his way.
“We always take them under our wing,” says company spokesman Rainer Grill. “Our employees take the new arrivals to soccer games or go bowling with them.”
Attracting skilled foreigners — and making them want to stay — is crucial for the company and its 800 employees. “We need specialized mechanical engineers, and we always have positions to fill,” Grill says.
As odd as it might sound, the euro crisis has been a boon to companies like Ziehl-Abegg, and the flood of qualified jobseekers fleeing mass unemployment and recession in Southern Europe shows no signs of abating. Indeed, in the first half of 2012, some 182,000 of them came to Germany — a 35 percent rise over the same period in 2011. The number of Portuguese and Spaniards in the country has doubled over the last year, while the number of Greek immigrants has risen by 78 percent. There’s also been an influx of Hungarians.
“It’s great for Germany,” says Herbert Brücker, an expert on migration at the Nuremberg-based Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the research arm of Germany’s Federal Employment Agency. Some 50 to 70 percent of immigrants are university graduates, he explains, with much-sought-after degrees in scientific and technical subjects. However, Brücker also notes that there’s plenty of demand for caregivers and nurses.
President Francois Hollande is pushing through legislation to increase taxes on beer by 160pc to help fund struggling social programmes as France tries to contain a budget deficit hit hard by the economic crisis.
The tax would affect local brews and the 30pc of imported beer the French drink, AP reported.
The change means the price of a beer will increase by about 20pc in bars and supermarkets, said Jacqueline Lariven, spokeswoman for the French brewer’s federation Brasseurs de France.
The Brewers of Europe trade group called the measure a “kick in the teeth”, especially since brewers have seen beer production plummet by 6pc and consumption by 8pc in the EU since the region’s economic crisis began in 2008.
Outside France, Belgium and Germany would be worst affected once the new legislation kicks in, said Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, head of the Brewers of Europe.
When President Franklin Roosevelt came into office in the depth of the Great Depression, he sought to stabilize and empower American society by introducing bold new initiatives: Social Security, the Public Works Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Rural Electrification Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, among many others. These measures were sufficiently successful, as was his leadership during World War II, that he secured four terms in the White House. There was some congressional resistance but not enough to block the support of both political parties.
Like Roosevelt, President Barack Obama has inherited a serious economic crisis, but in his first two years in office he has been met with an even worse problem: the rigid opposition of the rival party leaders to national health care and nearly every other proposal he has made. The Republican House Appropriations Committee has even voted to terminate public funding for NPR and PBS. Neither during my four years in the House of Representatives, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, nor through eighteen years in the U.S. Senate, under John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, have I witnessed any president thwarted by the kind of narrow partisanship that has beset Obama. He has tried to avoid such divisions by publicly explaining his willingness to compromise, but these gestures have been spurned. Some of his political critics have gone so far as to express the hope that the Obama Administration will fail, even avowing their determination to hasten that failure. What has happened, one is compelled to ask, to the love of nation?
I have learned that it is not easy to succeed either as a senator or as a president if you are pushing for fundamental change. We tend, as lawmakers and as citizens, to drift along with the familiar ways of thinking: If it is good enough for Grandma and Grandpa, it is good enough for us. If it is good enough for the flag-wavers and the boasters, it is good enough for us. Such resistance to change often is strengthened by powerful interests—nowhere more forcefully than in the National Defense bill that Congress considers and passes each year.
Within the public policy arena, the contemporary use of the term wealth stripping has generally referred to financial products and services like payday lenders, rent-to-own stores, and the like that exploit the lack of financial sophistication among economically disadvantaged populations. Awareness of the problem among policy-makers and advocates arguably originated with Michael Sherraden’s 1991 book, Assets and the Poor. Sherraden’s landmark work spawned a virtual avalanche of research, proposals, and innovative initiatives on asset building. Out of that body of research grew significant attention toward wealth stripping. John Caskey’s seminal 1996 book, Fringe Banking: Check-Cashing Outlets, Pawnshops, and the Poor, was the subject’s foundational text, highlighting how the high cost of alternative or fringe lenders strips away the financial resources of the poor. Many other scholars have since followed with different perspectives on both saving opportunities and the wealth-stripping challenges confronting the poor.
Even today, writings on the subject of wealth stripping tend to focus principally on the high cost of alternative financial services. But the Great Recession—driven by the foreclosures that hit minority communities especially hard—demands a broader examination of the issue to include ways in which the failure to impose or enforce consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws can lead to even greater harms. This broader perspective is essential if we are to understand and address the unique hurdles faced by low- and moderate-income households and people of color, who are disproportionately affected by these problems.
Wealth stripping has only increased during the economic crisis. Since the onset of the Great Recession, Americans have lost $7 trillion in equity in their homes. The Federal Reserve estimates the median American family has lost nearly two decades of wealth, or almost 40 percent of their assets. In a separate report, the Pew Research Center estimates that Latinos, Asians, and African Americans have experienced wealth losses of 66 percent, 54 percent, and 53 percent respectively, compared to 13 percent for whites. These losses are largely due to home foreclosures and lost equity
Barack Obama’s presidency began in hope and goodwill, but its test will be its success or failure on the economics. Did the president and his team correctly diagnose the problem? Did they act with sufficient imagination and force? And did they prevail against the political obstacles—and not only that, but also against the procedures and the habits of thought to which official Washington is addicted?
The president has an economic program. But there is, so far, no clear statement of the thinking behind that program, and there may not be one, until the first report of the new Council of Economic Advisers appears next year. We therefore resort to what we know about the economists: the chair of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers; the CEA chair, Christina Romer; the budget director, Peter Orszag; and their titular head, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. This is plainly a capable, close-knit group, acting with energy and commitment. Deficiencies of their program cannot, therefore, be blamed on incompetence. Rather, if deficiencies exist, they probably result from their shared background and creed—in short, from the limitations of their ideas.
The deepest belief of the modern economist is that the economy is a self-stabilizing system. This means that, even if nothing is done, normal rates of employment and production will someday return. Practically all modern economists believe this, often without thinking much about it. (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said it reflexively in a major speech in London in January: “The global economy will recover.” He did not say how he knew.) The difference between conservatives and liberals is over whether policy can usefully speed things up. Conservatives say no, liberals say yes, and on this point Obama’s economists lean left. Hence the priority they gave, in their first days, to the stimulus package.
But did they get the scale right? Was the plan big enough? Policies are based on models; in a slump, plans for spending depend on a forecast of how deep and long the slump would otherwise be. The program will only be correctly sized if the forecast is accurate. And the forecast depends on the underlying belief. If recovery is not built into the genes of the system, then the forecast will be too optimistic, and the stimulus based on it will be too small.
On a sweltering Saturday evening, a small crowd gathered in Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood to kick off a festival dedicated to one of the city’s patrons, the Virgin of the Paloma. In the nights to come, there would be paso doble contests, heaps of fried sheep intestine to consume at outdoor stalls and plenty of drunken dancing to Shakira at 2 a.m. But now, at this more politically inspired celebration, the biggest attraction was a carnival booth, called the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, where people paid 50 cents for the chance to throw a ball at a target adorned with the cartoon faces of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Rodrigo Rato (the recently resigned head of Bankia, which had to be nationalized earlier this year to the tune of 21 billion euros) and other protagonists of Spain’s economic crisis. As one bearded young man aimed carefully and toppled Angela Merkel with missile-like accuracy, the crowd erupted in a gleeful “Olé!”
Protests are everywhere and in almost every form these days in Spain. Ever since the Spanish government requested a bailout from the E.U. for its troubled banks in June, the growing list of austerity measures (a 7% reduction in civil servants’ pay; an increase in the value-added tax on goods and services; the abolition of subsidies for most medicines; rising power rates) has pushed a steady tide of demonstrators into the streets. Most of these protests are of the chanting and placard-waving variety; hardly a day goes by in Madrid without some kind of angry march in front of a government building or down a central artery. But as the crisis wears on and Spain appears to approach a second bailout — this one of its rapidly growing sovereign debt — new varieties of protest are emerging. Like the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, the criticism and outrage are becoming downright creative.
No one knows the value of a little dramatic action better than Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo. A member of Andalucia’s regional parliament and mayor of Marinaleda, 115 km outside Seville, he is also one of the leaders of the Andalucian Workers’ Syndicate (SAT), a union composed primarily of agricultural day laborers. Reviving a tradition that dates to the 19th century, about 1,000 SAT members occupied an estate owned by the Spanish military on July 24 and demanded that the land be redistributed to the area’s workers. When that action failed to garner much attention, the SAT resorted to another tactic: members entered two supermarkets, loaded carts with staples like milk, pasta and olive oil, and walked out without paying (though with a bit of scuffling from management). They later turned over the stolen goods to charity.
“We robbed to give to the poor because the rich are already robbing,” says Sánchez Gordillo. “This crisis is a great robbery.”
Organized crime in Italy has extended its reach into nearly every aspect of life, from coffee to livestock—and the recession is only making it stronger.
Every four hours, seven days a week, one of Italy’s organized-crime syndicates commits an unforgiveable offense against the environment. The crimes by the eco-mafia and agro-mafia run the gamut from the blatant dumping of toxic chemicals on protected national parkland and working farmland to the more subtle influence the mob has on everything from trucking and transportation to the illicit importation of fillers used in coffee, pasta, and even sugar.
“Coffee, water, fruit, bread, milk, meat, cheese, and even biscuits are all products of organized crime,” says author and journalist Roberto Saviano, who lives under police protection after receiving death threats from the Neapolitan Camorra, one of Italy’s Naples-based organized-crime syndicates. Other groups include Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta. “The breadbasket of the Camorra, Cosa Nostra, the ‘Ndrangheta touches every aspect of a typical day of an ordinary citizen. Every gesture, from the first that we do in the morning until dinner, may enrich the clan without our knowledge.”
Earlier this month, Italy’s foremost environmental group, Legambiente, issued its annual eco-mafia report on the mob’s illicit impact on the environment in 2011. Not only did eco-mafia crimes grow by 10 percent over the previous year but new categories were created, meaning the mob’s tentacles have reached even further into the fabric of Italian society thanks to a burgeoning economic crisis.
When banks and financial institutions are unwilling to help out small businesses, the mob fills the vacuum. Collectively, Italy’s various mob rings earned €16.6 billion in 2011, an astonishing figure considering the country’s deep recession. Nearly 20 local governments across Italy were taken over by mafia infiltration, according to the report, and there is a worrying increase in the illegal trafficking of art and lifestock, not to mention the rogue burning of over 150,000 acres of land to clear the way for illegal construction. According to Saviano, who wrote the preface for the eco-mafia report, no one cares. “The clans’ impact has been forgotten, removed, erased from the collective memory,” he says. “No one even remembers when this phenomenon started, it is so common now, like a faraway ghost.”
Hundreds of unemployed Spaniards who had travelled hundreds of kilometers (miles) on foot to Madrid joined protests on Saturday against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government and its handling of an economic crisis in the EU country.
Demonstrations have swelled across Spain since the center-right government announced 65 billion euros in new spending cuts two weeks ago to satisfy the conditions of a euro zone bailout, with firefighters and police joining a mass protest on Thursday.
Several hundred jobless people journeyed on foot from the southern region of Andalucia, which has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, northern Catalonia and other areas in an attempt to highlight the plight of the unemployed in recession-hit Spain, where almost one in four is without a job.
A march was planned for Saturday night towards Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, a central square that has been the scene of protests involving hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Violence erupted at a protest earlier this month and police used teargas and rubber bullets.